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December 31, 2008

Report of Inquiry Panel Regarding Dr. Leo Furcht Conflict of Interest

A disturbing document is available for download as a pdf from the Star-Tribune website. Eventually it will not be available and since it is a scan of a fax turned into a pdf - well the quality isn't too good. See an earlier post for a direct link to be found at the end of the document.

The whole thing is in the continuation below for those with strong stomachs. I give here just enough to illustrate the avarice and duplicity involved.

... the panel recommends that the Dean consider undertaking an investigation to examine whether Dr. Furcht committed misconduct under Section 10 of the Faculty Tenure Code. This section includes the following ground as a basis for suspension, termination, or other disciplinary action against a faculty member: "Egregious or repeated misuse of the powers of a professional position to solicit personal benefits or favors." Faculty Tenure Code, Section 10.21(c).

Several of Dr. Furcht's actions raise questions about possible misuse of his professional position. In particular, further review may be needed to determine whether Dr. Furcht misused his faculty and/or department head position in ways such as the following:

a) To arrange for research to be conducted at the University to personally benefit him and his commercial interests;

b) To delay or avoide addressing xxxxxxx concerns about payment of research fees for the Baxter research performed in xxxx laboratory;

c) To direct the use of University funds to cover research performed in xxxxxxxx laboratory that served the commercial interests of Dr. Furcht and MCL; and

d) To manipulate and mislead xxxxxxxx into performing research at the University that personally benefited Dr. Furcht and his commercial interests.

Document Transcipt Follows


[Note: The posted document has some names redacted.
This omission is noted in this transcipt by: xxx...]


This is an inquiry report examining whether Dr. Leo Furcht has violated the University's conflict of interest policy in connection with a July 2000 research agreement involving Baxter Healthcare Corporation. Based on the reasons detailed below, the Panel concludes that Dr. Furcht has committed a serious violation of the conflict of interest policy and recommends that he be subject to disciplinary action. Further, the Panel recommends that the Medical School consdier proceeding with a full investigation to examine whether Dr. Furcht committed misconduct under the Tenure Code by misusing the powers of his professional position as a professor and department head to obtain personal benefits.

Panel members who conducted the inquiry were: Robert Cipolle, Professor of Pharmacy and Chair of the AHC Conflict Review Committee; Frances Larenz, Professor of Educational Psychology and member and Interim Chair of the Provost's Conflict Review Committee; and Anne Taylor, Associate Dean of the Medical School and member of the Research Relationships Review Panel. In addition, Richard Bianco, Assistant Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, and Barbara Shiels, legal advsor for the University's conflict review comittees, served as ex-offico advisors to the inquiry panel.


The Panel met on four occasions to carry out the inquiry. There was an initial meeting on August 18, 2003, where Gail Klatt and Allen Willie of the Department of Audits provided background factual information to the Panel. The panel inteviewed xxxxxxxxxx on September 18, 2003, and interviewed Dr. Furcht on September 30, 2003. There was a final meeting on October 10, 2003, with no witnesses present, where the Panel assessed the evidence collected in the inquiry and formulated the Panel's conclusions. Legal counsel for the Panel was not present at the Panel's inberviews of September 18 and September 30, because neither xxxxxxxxxx nor Dr. Furcht appeared with legal counsel.


In addition to the evidence obtained through witness interviews, the Panel reviewed numerous documents in the course of the inquiry. These documents included contracts, research reports and correspondence between xxxxxxxxxx and Dr. Furcht. A complete list of the documents is attached as Appendix A.


A. Audit Manager Allen Willie

Allen Willie ("Auditor Willie") indicated that xxxxxxxxxx and Dr. Furcht entered into a research agreement with Baxter Healthcare Corporation ("Baxter") in July 2000. The Agreement was between Baxter and MCL, a company formed by Dr. Furcht to commercialize stem cell technology developed by xxxxxxxxxx in which the University had waived interests. Dr. Furcht has an equity/ownership interest in MCL and is the president of the company, whereas xxxxxxxxxx has a royalty interest only in MCL.

Under the research agreement, Baxter was to pay MCL $501,000 to conduct research on whether xxxxxxxxxx could use stem cell technology to grow red blood cells. xxxxxxxxxx and Dr. Furcht signed the agreement as "investigators" and Dr. Furcht also signed separately as President of MCL. The research was preformed by xxxxxxxxxx and the employees in laboratory at the University.

According to Auditor Willie, the parties to the agreement understood the research would be conducted at the University. However, the University was not a party to this agreement and it was executed without the University's knowledge. An earlier draft version of the agreement in April 2000 listed the University as a party, but Dr. Furcht maintained he didn't need to continue to involve the University once the University had waived its interest in the technology in May 2001. The University became aware of the agreement in the fall of 2002 when the issue arose in connection with a proposed sale by Furcth of MCL to another company called Athersys. Also, around this time xxxxxxxxxx asked the Office of the General Counsel for help in getting payment from Dr. Furcht for help in getting payment from Dr. Furcht for sdthe research that had beeen performed for Baxter.

Auditor Willie reported the Baxter research had been completed in March 2001 and a final report by xxxxxxxxxx and Dr. Furcht was delivered to Baxter at that time. Dr. Furcht donfirmed to Auditor Willie that baxter ahd made the payment of $501,000 for the research. However, Dr. Furcht had advised xxxxxxxxxx the money was sused to offset legal expenses for patent prosecution and he claimed also to have funded over $1 million of research in xxxxxxxxx laboratory through the Universities BMEI.

Auditor Willie said he understood that both xxxxxxxxxx and Dr. Furcht had disclosed their interests in MCL to the University through the regular conflict of interest reporting process. However, neither had disclosed the Baxter agreement or the work being done at the University on behalf of MCL and Baxter. To Auditor Willie's knowledge, Dr. Furcht had participated in the Baxter research by making a presentation to Baxter about the research, securing Baxter as a sponsor and signing offf on the report of research findings to baxter. Auditor Willie reported that Dr. Furcht stands to make several million dollars if the sale of MCL is finalized.

B. Dr. Leo Furcht

Dr. Furcht was asked for an explanation of the study. He responded that xxxxxxxxxx had been trying to make blood with what xxxxxxxxxx thought were mesenchymal stem cells. In the process of trying to make blood, they made what looked like neuronal cells. All along there was interst in testing for hematopoiesis of the cells but that linate was having difficulty coming to fruition. The technology is very gray as to where it begins and ends. Therefore, a protocol was developed to study hematopoiesis, both in-vitro and in-vivo.

Dr. Furcht was asked about the findings and he responded that the work was ongoing before and continued afterward. Six months into the protocol, xxxxxxxxxx began to see spleen colonies in the in-vivo studies. These cells are now called MAPC's. The results showed limited engraftment in-vivo. With some cytokines and growth factors it could be done in vitro but the only thing xxxxx saw was the ability to form fetal hemoglobin chains and not adult cells.

Dr. Furcht was asked what the relationship was between MCL and the University. He responded that they went to PTM in 1998 or 1999 with an abstract that is the heart of the company's technology and teh University did not want to file the patent. The University had contacted Osiris and the company responded it had this and was not interested. According to Dr. Furcht, xxxxxxxxxx came to him because of his experience with patents. After the University waived its rights, he worked with xxxxxxxxxx. He was assured that the technology was waived and MCL was set up as a shell to hold the technology. MCL does not have a building or a lab, just the technology patent. Dr. Furcht said he decided to file the provisional patent and figure out other issues later.

In September 2001, xxxxxx from PTM said there was a new disclosure, different from the original that was presented to PTM. He asked if Dr. Furcht would give xxxxxx a waiver to work on that for the University. According to Dr. Furcht, what came out of that was the University accusing xxxxx of not being truthful in xxxx disclosure to PTM. Dr. Furcht felt the University understood what it lost and wanted to get it back.

Dr. Furcht said a legal debate ensued with the University from September 2001 through May 2002 as to what the MCL patent covered. It was settled that MCL owned only a small piece of the technology and the University owned the hematopoiesis work.

Dr. Furcht was asked when the research agreement was signed for the study in question. He stated the protocol was initiated in July, 2000. At that point the University had wiaved the patent and MCL thought it held the patent right.

Dr. Furcht was questioned why there were two versions of the research agreement and why on one the University was the institution and on the second MCL was the institution? Dr. Furcht stated that this was at the request of the legal people at Baxter who said the University could not enter into an IP agreement on something they did not own. The panel noted that Dr. Furcht signed the protocols as the President of MCL and as an investigator. Does he see a conflict in that? Dr. Furcht did not see one because the research was to be done in someone else's lab. The panel sated that he had control of the money and that is a PI role. He agreed that he controlled the money but said he never intended to participate in the research.

Dr. Furcht was asked to explain his relationship with MCL. He responded that the University owns 5% and some consultants own a litlle. He is the "top dog" of MCL. xxxxx has no relationship except assigning the technology. In consideration for that a royalty arrangement was made with MCL. xxxxx did not want more of a financial arrangement.

Dr. Furcht asked who funded the study in question. He responed that Baxter funded it and that he has no relationship with Baxter.

Dr. Furcht was asked why the parallel research agreement between MCL and the University was not made. He sated that Baxter wanted the agreement with MCL because MCL owned the cells. The panel aked is there documentation sating that Baxter knew they would have to license from the University if the research was successful? He stated that the Company owns only the abstract.

The panel noted that if subsequent to the interim report Baxter wanted the technology, MCL would have had to go to the University. At the time the interim report was done in March 2001, why woul Baxter think they had to go to the University to license the technology from the study? Dr. Furcht stated it was novel research outside the original grant. Part of the gray area was the ongoing negotiations. It took from October to June 17 to finalize an agreement with Athersys.

Dr. Furcht was asked where the money is now. He responded we settled to the degree that patent lawyers could agree with who owned what. As part of that deal, he said he wantted to make it look like the University had licensed the technology. The University got equity and royalties. Dr. Furcth said we structured it to have sub-licensing and will close on acquiring the technology. When that happens the first phas of money will come in. Part of that deal was to close the book on money owed to the University. Athersys acquires MCL assets and liabilities.

Dr. Furcht sated that the Baxter project is done and Baxter paid the money to MCL, but that a final report was never issued. Dr. Furcht was asked again why he was listed as an investigator. He responded that it was Baxter's document.


There are several provisions of the Regents policy that are relevant to this inquiry. They include the definitions of business interest and significant financial interst, disclosure requirements, enforcemt through disciplinary action, research activities constitution moderate to high potential for conflict, and department head review responsibilities. These provisions are referenced in the conclusions section below and excerpted verbatim in Appendix B.


1. Dr. Furcht had a business interest and a significant financial interest as defined under the Regents Conflict of Interest Policy. His business interest was an executive position as founder and president of MCL, and his financial interest was chief equity holder in the company. See definitions of "business interest" and "significant financial intest" in Appendix B, item 1.

2. Dr. Furcht's involvement in research conducted at the University under the Baxter research agreement constituted a moderate to high potential for conflict of interest under the Regents Policy. Although not part of the day to day research activities in xxxxxxxxxx laboratory, Dr. Furcht participated in Baxter research in several keey ways: he contacted the funding agency, negotiated for external support, facilitated the use of University facilities for the resarch project; identified himself as an investigator on the research agreement with Baxter, presented research results to Baxter, submitted a written report about the project with his name included on the report, and controlled the funding of the project at the University. Thus, Dr. Furcht participated in the evaluation or development of of stem cell technology owned by MCL in which he had a business interest and a significant financial interest in the form of equity in the company. Appendix B, item 2.

3. Dr. Furcht was required to disclose his involvement in the Baxter project prior to undertaking this activity at the University. Prior disclosure of a potential conflict of interest is a key requirement of the Regents policy. Appendix B, item 3.

4. Dr. Furcht failed to make a prior disclosure of his involvement in the Baxter project and therefore, violated the Regents policy. Failure to file a required disclosure may be the baseis for discipline of an employee under the enforcement section of the policy. Appendix B, item 4.

5. Dr. Furcht's violation of the conflict policy was a serious violation by a senior University official which the panel believes warrants both corrective and disciplinary action against Dr. Furcht. There were a number of factors leading the panel to this conclusion:

a) First, Dr. Furcht did not have a reasonable basis for believing he was in compliance with the conflict policy. Dr. Furcht's participation in the project as outlined in paragraph 2 above (e.g. obtaining research funding, identifyig himself as an investigator, presenting research results, controlling th project funds, etc.) is typical of the actions performed by a principal investigator. The fact that Dr. Furcht did not also perform the day to day research activities in the laboratory doe snot render him exempt form the conflict policy. Dr. Furcht was in a position to influence the design, conduct and/or reporting of research conducted at the University in which he had a business and financial interst and thus was subject to the restrictions of the conflict policy.

b) Second, as a department head with administrative and oversight responsibilities under the conflict policy, Dr. Furcth is expected to know and understand the requirements of the policy. Dr. Furcht is responsible for reviewing and approving the REPA forms for each academic employee in his department and is the primary administrator responsible for determining the appropriate course of actdion for those external realtionships that create a minimal to moderate potential for conflict. See Appendix B, item 5. Dr. Furcht either knew or should have known that his participation in the Baxter project performed at the University using technology owned by MCL created a sizeable potential for conflict of interest.

c) Finally, as the President and chief equity holder of MCL, Dr. Furcth had extensive business and financial interests in the MCL technology evaluated under the Baxter agreement. Dr. Furcht described himself as the "top dog" of MCL. In fact, it appears Dr. Furcht stands to personally gain several million dollars from the pending sale of MCL to Athersys. When an individual holds interests in an outide company as extensive as Dr. Furcht's interests, there is a concern under the conflict policy that those intestes could give rise to an actual conflict of inteerest where the employee compromises his or her professional judgment in carrying out University responsibilities. Based on the magnitude of Dr. Furcht's intest in MCL it is highly unlikely the University would have permitted any involvement by him in the Baxter project performed at the University had he complied with the conflict of interest policy and disclosed this activity prior to undertaking the project.

6. The panel recommends the following corrective and disciplinary action to address Dr. Furcht's violation of the conflict of interest policy:

a) As correcdtive action, Dr. Furcht re-takes the Reponsible Conduct of Research (RCR) course - Parts 1 and 2 to help assure he satisfies University requirements related to any future research in which he participates at the University; and

b) As disciplinary action, Dr. Furcht at a minimum should not be allowed to perform the conflict of interest responsibilities of a department head. Based on Dr. Furcht's own serious violation of the conflict policy, the panel does not have confidence he can carry out the administrative and oversight responsibilities specified in paragraph 5(b) above that are required of a department head under the conflict policy. Further, since responsibility to monitor conflict of interst is such an important part of a department head's duties, the Panel believes that Dr. Furcht's removal as Department Head may be warranted.

7. The panel believes that it has all the necessary facts to reach a conclusion about Dr. Furcht's conduct under the conflict of interest policy and to recommend appropriate action as outlined above. However, the panel acknowledges that the decision whether to proceed to a full investigation rests solely with the Dean of the Medical School.

8. On a related issue, the panel recommends that the Dean consider undertaking an investigation to examine whether Dr. Furcht committed misconduct under Section 10 of the Faculty Tenure Code. This section includes the following ground as a basis for suspension, termination, or other disciplinary action against a faculty member:

"Egregious or repeated misuse of the powers of a professional position to solicit personal benefits or favors." Faculty Tenure Code, Section 10.21(c).

Several of Dr. Furcht's actions raise questions about possible misuse of his professional position. In particular, further review may be needed to determine whether Dr. Furcht misused his faculty and/or department head position in ways such as the following:

a) To arrange for research to be conducted at the University to personally benefit him and his commercial interests;

b) To delay or avoide addressing xxxxxxx concerns about payment of research fees for the Baxter research performed in xxxx laboratory;

c) To direct the use of University funds to cover research performed in xxxxxxxx laboratory that served the commercial interests of Dr. Furcht and MCL; and

d) To manipulate and mislead xxxxxxxx into performing research at the University that personally benefited Dr. Furcht and his commercial interests.


Robert Cipolle
Professor of Pharmacy and Chair of AHC Conflict Review Committee

Frances Lawrenz
Professor of Educational Psychology and Member and Interim Chair of the Provost's Conflict Review Committee

Anne Taylor
Associate Dean of the Medical School and Member of the Resarch Relationshiops Review Panel

December 30, 2008

How Others See Us - More on Med School Conflict of Interest Events

Margaret Soltan chips in on the Strib article about med school reaction to the conflict of interest situation.

Even though Furcht — himself a serious violator of conflict of interest policies — for some reason chairs the university’s conflict of interest review committee, he refused a request from the Star Tribune for information about his relationships with industry. Many of his own committee members complied with the request, but Furcht, already outed as a violator, and the subject therefore of a great deal of press interest, continues his foolish, high-handed ways.

Having been silly enough to appoint the tainted Furcht - a crony - head of the committee, the medical school dean must now deal with far more publicity about what the committee’s up to than she’d expected. And even if, under the glare of publicity, the committee agrees to publicize this and that conflict, it won’t go far enough.

“The idea is that as long as these relationships are made public, the problem is solved,? said Carl Elliott, a professor at the U’s Center for Bioethics, who is not a member of the task force. “How much good does that really do? Is a public bribe really all that much better than a secret bribe?? He said Furcht should be removed from the committee.

The clueless, insular way in which Furcht was appointed, and Furcht’s continued mindless arrogance, tells you all you need to know about the culture out of which endemic conflict of interest emerges in universities all over the country.

How NOT to handle conflict of interest disclosure

Gary Schwitzer reacts to the Furcht outing.

He was a member of the conflict of interest task force.

December 29, 2008 How NOT to handle conflict of interest disclosure

The Star Tribune did a fine job digging, finding and disclosing that Dean Deborah Powell of the University of Minnesota medical school "appointed as cochair of the task force (on med school conflict of interest policy) a man who'd just come off three years of sanctions for his own serious conflict-of-interest violations involving a private company he owned." As a Strib editorial correctly stated: "Had it not been for the newspaper story, made possible by documents obtained through the state's open records laws, neither the public nor some members of the panel would have known of Leo Furcht's past."

Blogger Bill Gleason posted the Strib article and has commented on the events.

Blogger Margaret Soltan "proposes we call this the Hannibal Lecter Executive Strategy. Not only was Lecter, as an object of FBI interest, experienced in the Bureau’s flaws. As someone who killed and ate people, Lecter had an insider’s understanding of other people who kill and eat people."

I was asked by the dean to serve on that task force.

I never thought I would have to poll fellow task force members about their own past or present conflicts of interest, so I didn't.

No one ever told task force members - at least not me - about the history of Furcht and Powell. Maybe everyone else knew. But I was the outsider on this task force - the journalism guy from across the street.

I am disappointed and feel misled. I'm not sure that knowing these details up front would have changed anything about the task force report. But I do know I'd feel a lot better about the process had there been full transparency and disclosure up front - which is at the core of conflict of interest policies.

December 29, 2008

Med School Reactions to Furcht Outing...

From the Strib:

Medical school conflicted over disclosures

Opinions vary on whether those proposing changes in the University of Minnesota's conflict-of-interest policy should themselves be free of conflicts.

By JANET MOORE, Star Tribune

In its draft report, the conflict of interest task force recommended that medical school doctors and researchers disclose their financial relationships with industry on a public web site. When the Star Tribune asked for disclosures of the 26 members, the U again declined.

So the Star Tribune asked the members directly. Sixteen responded (one could not be reached).

Ten said they had nothing to disclose and six reported various relationships with drug and medical device companies -- from royalties for inventions to grants for clinical research to equity stakes in start-up firms. (Furcht did not respond.)

A bioethicist at the U said disclosure alone is not enough, and that a task force revising rules on financial relationships with industry should itself be free of conflict of interest.

"The idea is that as long as these relationships are made public, the problem is solved," said Carl Elliott, a professor at the U's Center for Bioethics, who is not a member of the task force. "How much good does that really do? Is a public bribe really all that much better than a secret bribe?" He said Furcht should be removed from the committee.

Several members of the committee said privately that Furcht should have disclosed that he was disciplined,
but few thought the recent revelation will change the crux of their final report.

The task force's draft recommendations have been circulated among medical faculty and students, and the dean has received hundreds of comments. A smaller committee will distill the recommendations, some of which may be approved by the Board of Regents. Work on the report likely will continue through next spring.

December 23, 2008

Judgment Lapse at U Medical School

From the Star-Tribune:

December 22, 2008

To be absolutely clear, the University of Minnesota Medical School is taking a pioneering and praiseworthy step in exploring a tough new conflict-of-interest policy for its staff.

As state funding becomes ever more of a question mark, universities everywhere are looking to mine the commercial applications of their researchers' work. This year has brought numerous examples of the need for caution and guidance in building these relationships with industry. Iowa's Republican Sen. Charles Grassley has spearheaded investigations that have uncovered numerous instances of top researchers at prestigious medical schools who failed to disclose drug industry payments or report other conflicts. It's a problem that has consequences far beyond academia: These researchers are often hugely influential, with their work and pronouncements shaping medical care across the nation.

And that's why recent revelations about the U medical school task force charged with writing the ethics guidelines are so disappointing, even sad.
This panel's work is incredibly important, protecting staff and patients while developing a model framework for other academic medical centers grappling with the same issues. And yet a major misstep by the university's medical school dean, Dr. Deborah Powell, has significantly undermined the task force's credibility and recommendations.

According to a Sunday Star Tribune story by Maura Lerner, Josephine Marcotty and Janet Moore, Powell appointed as cochair of the task force a man who'd just come off three years of sanctions for his own serious conflict-of-interest violations involving a private company he owned. Had it not been for the newspaper story, made possible by documents obtained through the state's open records laws, neither the public nor some members of the panel would have known of Leo Furcht's past.

At first glance, he might have seemed an ideal candidate
for the job. Furcht is the U's chairman of lab medicine and pathology, with a track record of entrepreneurship and involvement in national medical organizations on conflict-of-interest issues. But in May 2004, Powell herself had a disciplinary letter placed in Furcht's file after internal investigators found him in "serious violation" of the U's conflict policy for steering a $501,000 drug company grant to a firm he owned and later sold for $9.5 million in stock, sharing 5 percent with the university. Because it was a personnel matter, the disciplinary action against Furcht wasn't made public.

Powell has been a respected leader since she became dean in October 2002. And that's why her about-face on Furcht makes so little sense. Why would she ban him from business-sponsored research in 2004 and then give him a leadership role in forming the medical school's policy on this three years later? Powell defended her decision Monday, saying the sanctions against Fuhrct were over and that his national experience on conflict-of-interest issues and his ability to lead large groups made him a good fit for the job. "It made sense to me. The pluses outweighed the minuses,'' she said, adding that Furcht was one of many working on the recommendations.

That reasoning might have flown if Powell had appointed Furcht as a regular member of the panel and then disclosed his own conflict-of-interest violations. But Powell did neither. She made him a cochair, and she said nothing about his past improprieties. That Powell's husband is a faculty member in Furcht's department adds to the concerns. So do the bizarre insistences from other U faculty that Furcht's leadership is needed because, as one professor put it, "he knows what a conflict looks like.''

The new guidelines under development at the U are an important step in restoring the public's faith after a year of scandal involving doctors and drug firms elsewhere. But unless the U acknowledges that mistakes were made, this well-intentioned effort may well backfire, creating more doubt than confidence.

December 21, 2008

Conflict of Interest at the Medical School - Big Time


Front Page, Above the Fold, Star-Tribune
Sunday, December 21, 2008

For a rant, please see the Periodic Table post:

Conflict of Interest at the Medical School

From the Star-Tribune:

A professor who is leading the University of Minnesota Medical School's effort to write tougher ethics rules was himself disciplined in 2004 for secretly steering a $501,000 research grant to his own company, according to university investigative reports obtained by the Star Tribune.

Dr. Leo Furcht, the chairman of lab medicine and pathology, was reprimanded for a "serious violation" of university conflict-of-interest policies in connection with a grant from Baxter Healthcare for stem cell research at the Medical School, according to the investigation, which the newspaper received through the state's public records law.

As a result, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell banned Furcht in May 2004 from any business-sponsored research for three years.

In 2007, Powell named Furcht to co-chair a task force to reform the Medical School's conflict-of-interest policy.

Furcht, a nationally known scientist and author, declined to comment.

Powell said in an interview that she chose Furcht for the task force because he had extensive experience with national professional organizations on devising conflict-of- interest rules. "That seemed to me to be a compelling reason to appoint him to that role," she said.

In the late 1990s, a colleague, Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, had made a breakthrough in stem-cell research. When the university declined to patent it, Furcht created his own company, MCL, and filed for the patent along with Verfaillie and another researcher.

In July 2000, Furcht lined up a research grant from Baxter to pay for more research, to be conducted in university laboratories, but did not disclose the deal to the university. Instead, Baxter paid the money, $501,000, to MCL.

A panel of three faculty members investigated and concluded that Furcht "committed a serious violation of the conflict of interest policy," according to a Dec. 19, 2003, report.

Among other things, they found that Furcht "knew or should have known" that he was required to disclose the financial arrangement with Baxter, because he had "a significant financial interest" in MCL and the stem-cell technology.

"In fact, it appears Dr. Furcht stands to personally gain several million dollars from the pending sale of MCL," the report said.

In November 2003, Furcht sold MCL for $9.5 million in stock, sharing 5 percent of the proceeds with the university.

The panel recommended that Furcht be disciplined and questioned whether he should retain his position as department chair. It also raised concerns that he may have misused his position "to personally benefit him and his commercial interests," and recommended further investigation.

In her letter concluding the matter, Powell wrote: "Despite this, I value your managerial abilities as a department head and wish to retain you in this role."

Frank Cerra, the university's senior vice president for health sciences, said Friday he was familiar with the case but couldn't recall details. He said Furcht's experience could help inform the conflict-of-interest committee's work.

Open your mouth and say awe.

(A pdf of the disciplinary panel's report is available on the Strib's website. A transcript will eventually be published on this site.)

December 20, 2008

The Governor Sends OurLeader a Not Too Subtle Message...

puzzled bob.jpg

Really? The Governor Cut Us?
How Could He Do That?

I have pointed out before the foolishness of the Board of Regents in backing OurLeader's request to the legislature for about seventy million additional dollars on top of the already approved request for one hundred and forty million additional dollars.

This request makes us look foolish and greedy.

For background please see the Periodic Table post: Ski-U-Mah? Is that Ojibwe for: "Let them eat cake?"

Some suggestions for cuts that OurLeader might want to think about may be found in the post: Time to put the head back on? Or, we have no money, therefore we must think.

This post also makes it clear how the citizens of the state are becoming increasingly disturbed by the U administration's behavior during this economic crisis - and it is that. Time to wake up Bob?

From MPR comes a report of OurGovernor's opening volley:

Higher education takes a big hit in governor's budget
by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio,
Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
December 19, 2008

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget cuts protected K-12 education, but Minnesota's higher education system took a big hit. The governor is reducing appropriations to the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System by $40 million dollars.

Gov. Pawlenty says the cuts will be be split equally between the state's two university systems, $20 million from the University of Minnesota and $20 million from MnSCU.

Pawlenty admits the reductions present a challenge to both systems. But he encourages higher education leaders to make the cuts without affecting students.

"These cuts to higher ed are manageable in the context of the crisis that we have without impacting students," said Pawlenty.

Gov. Pawlenty planned to meet with University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks this afternoon to discuss the cuts. The U of M did not make anyone available for comment on the budget reductions.

Beyond the $40 million in cuts to the two University systems, Gov. Pawlenty also plans to cut money used to train medical students in clinics, hospitals and clinics throughout the state. The Medical Education Research Costs account, or MERC, will have more than half of its $51 million a year budget cut. Mary Koppel is a spokesperson with the U of M's Academic Health Center, which uses the account to place medical students in training positions.

"This is the funding that goes to ensure our students and our residents have experience in communities. And if they don't have those experiences here, particularly our residents, they go to other states. And if we lose them from the state of Minnesota, it's harder for us to get them to come back to practice to be the professionals we need them to be," said Koppel.

For Minnesota college students, Gov. Pawlenty's budget cutting won't mean an increase in tuition, at least not now. Tuition rates at both University systems are locked in place through next semester.

But these cuts most likely signal more tight education funding, especially as the state deals with its two year nearly $5 billion budget deficit.

Gov. Pawlenty says his budget cutting offers somewhat of a warning to Minnesota higher education officials as they prepare their budget requests for next year's legislative session. Times are tough and colleges are going to be expected to do more with less.

Hello, Bob, this is really serious. Time to finally show a little leadership rather than whistling in the dark? I repeat here some things that you can do to reduce cash outflow from the university without hurting our fundamental priorities, in order: education, research, new buildings:

1. A ten percent cut in the number of administrators at the U of M.

2. A pay cut of 10% for all U of M employees making more than 250K per year.

3. A pay cut of 5% for all U of M employees making more than 100K per year.

4. No new Bell Museum

5. No new biomedical research buildings

6. No new spending on Northrop auditorium

7. No new spending on MoreU Park

8. The end of Driven to Discover as soon as is legally possible.

December 18, 2008

The University of Minnesota's Licensee Code of Conduct

Another Opportunity to Do the Right Thing, Bob?

From Statement By President Robert H. Bruininks Regarding Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), April 24, 2007

University President Mark Yudof wrote, “The University of Minnesota must unequivocally insist upon safe, decent working conditions for those who manufacture University-licensed apparel.? The University subsequently adopted its Trademark Licensee Code of Conduct (Code). That Code applies to all licenses issued by the University for the production of University logo apparel. It expresses the University’s commitment “to conducting its business affairs in a socially responsible and ethical manner,? and its expectation that licensees of the University shall “conduct their business in a manner consistent with this Code of Conduct.? The Code establishes standards that licensees must meet in the areas of wages and benefits, working hours, overtime benefits, child labor, forced labor, health and safety, nondiscrimination, harassment or abuse, freedom of association, collective bargaining and women’s rights. The University remains firmly committed to these principles.

From the University of Minnesota Morris Campus Newspaper, The University Register:

On October 8, Russell Athletic, a supplier of apparel to the University of Minnesota, announced their decision to close one of their largest Honduran factories. Russell’s decision to close the factory comes directly on the heels of efforts by workers at the factory to negotiate with the company for better wages and improved working conditions. The closure is a blatant violation of the University of Minnesota’s licensee code of conduct. Robert Bruininks, as president of the entire University of Minnesota, must cut our contract with Russell immediately to ensure that brands take our university’s labor standards seriously.

Last spring, Russell fired more than 140 workers in an effort to crush workers’ efforts to form a union. Thanks to intervention by universities, the fired workers were offered reinstatement and Russell agreed to recognize and negotiate with their union.

In October, the company announced plans to close its Jerzees de Honduras factory, one of the few collegiate factories in the world where workers had been able to successfully exercise their right to form an independent union, in large part due to intervention by universities and students.

Russell claims that the decision to close the factory is based solely on economic reasons, but a recent investigation by the Worker Rights Consortium found more than 100 incidents where Russell management had told workers that the factory would be closed because of the union.

Russell’s decision to close the Jerzees de Honduras facility is yet another salient example of why it is so imperative that President Bruininks immediately adopt the Designated Supplier Program (DSP). Over the past two years, we have seen dozens of factories shut down after making real strides to enforce university codes of conduct.

In many cases, it appears that major apparel brands decided to pull their orders from the facilities because they were unwilling to pay the slightly higher costs that are an inevitable result of a factory taking workers’ rights seriously. The Jerzees de Honduras closure is the most recent in a string of closures that have resulted in thousands of fired workers who are unable to find jobs and support their families. The DSP was created specifically to prevent this from happening, and to reward factories that respect workers’ rights, instead of punishing them with a loss of business. Unless the University of Minnesota adopts the DSP, workers making our clothes will continue to be faced with a choice between their jobs and their rights, just as we’ve seen at Jerzees de Honduras.

If we allow Russell to shut down one of the only university logo apparel factories in the world where workers have been able to successfully exercise the basic right to form an independent union, we send a message to all apparel brands that it is acceptable to violate our licensee code of conduct, as long as they can provide an excuse, no matter how weak. What brands will understand from this is that as long as they pretend to respect workers’ rights for a few months, they can simply turn around and close the factory when no one is watching.

If the University of Minnesota does not act now, it will send a clear message to workers throughout the university logo apparel supply chain that codes of conduct are meaningless. Despite the pervasive climate of fear and intimidation that exists throughout the garment industry in Central America, workers at Jerzees de Honduras were able to successfully form a union and begin to negotiate a contract. When workers learn that Jerzees de Honduras is closing, the obvious conclusion is that any attempt to exercise their rights will be met with a loss of jobs and livelihood for themselves and their families. This closure will undermine not only the university’s past efforts on this case, but all attempts everywhere to make codes of conduct meaningful.

The University of Minnesota must immediately sever our contract with Russell Athletic. The University of Miami, a major licensing school, has already done so, and many others are considering it. We cannot afford to continue to stand by the sidelines while other schools do the right thing. Student activists from the Duluth, Twin Cities, and Morris chapters of the Minnesota Public Interest Group have demanded that President Bruininks take action, and that he do so before spring semester commences. The University of Minnesota and Russell may continue to make excuses about why they can’t do the right thing, but there’s simply no excuse for violating workers’ rights.

If we don't want to let Victoria's Secret use our logo because it sends out a bad message, how can we possibly let Russell continue to use it? Doesn't this send out the message that our licensee code of conduct is a farce? Bob?

December 17, 2008

Fourteen Candidates for Four Regent Slots

U of M alum, Jenna Ross, has been writing up a storm on the U:

From the Strib:

...representing the FOURTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, are:

Blanton Bessinger, a physician and the vice president of medical affairs and director of child advocacy and policy at the Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis. He also has been president of the Minnesota Medical Association.

Anita Pampusch of Lilydale, a former president of the College of St. Catherine and former president of the Bush Foundation, both in St. Paul. She is also a Lilydale City Council member and University of Notre Dame trustee.

James Miller of Mendota Heights, the longtime executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities in St. Paul, where he has also served as president. He's also a former Minnetonka city manager and former board member of the National League of Cities.

Richard Beeson of St. Paul, president and CEO of Park Midway Bank in St. Paul and chair of the Central Corridor Partnership. He has also served as chair of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce and treasurer of the St. Paul River Centre Authority.

By seat, the applicants for the other three spots are:


Incumbent Patricia Simmons of Rochester, a physician and professor of pediatrics at Mayo Clinic and the Board of Regent's current chair. She faces:

Randy Simonson of Worthington is general manager and chief operating officer of Newport Laboratories Inc. and director of its parent corporation, the Prairie Holdings Group, a group of 11 Worthington businesses.

Bruce Beatty of New Ulm, a Nicollet County commissioner and graduate of the U's College of Veterinary Medicine

Clifford Vrieze of Trimont, a longtime corn and soybean farmer, board member on the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and former community college instructor.


Incumbent John Frobenius of St. Cloud was elected to the Board of Regents in 2003 and is a retired hospital administrator. He faces:

Kathryn Roberts of Stillwater, president and CEO of Shoreview-based Ecumen, a nonprofit senior housing, services and development company and former executive director of the Minnesota Zoo.

Kjell Bergh of Stillwater, chairman and CEO of Borton Volvo Inc. in Minneapolis and former trustee of Macalester College in St. Paul and of Augsburg College in Minneapolis.


Incumbent Clyde Allen Jr. of Moorhead was elected to the Board of Regents in 2003. Now retired, he has worked as treasurer and vice president for business affairs for Concordia College in Moorhead, among other things. He faces:

Anne Rasmusson, an attorney and partner of a Crookston-based law firm, vice chair of RiverView Health and chair of the Polk County Development Achievement Center

Gary Lee of Fertile, president of Lee Nursery Inc. and director of the Minnesota State High School League.

The Regents serve a very important function at the U. Let's hope that new blood and the exit of one long-time Regent who has been a very strong supporter of OurLeader will lead to some changes in direction. The current regents are very earnest and hardworking people who truly have the best interests of the University at heart. Unfortunately, I don't believe that they are always playing with a full deck as far as the information they are given by some of our administrators.

Credit Crunch Halts Construction at U

I am sure that OurLeader is aware of this latest development. Perhaps there is a lesson here for him...


From the Strib:

Credit crunch delays new U-Fairview care center

By CHEN MAY YEE, Star Tribune

December 16, 2008

The nation's credit crunch is forcing the University of Minnesota Medical Center to delay construction of a $200 million building for outpatient care.

The Ambulatory Care Center is the biggest local medical-construction project so far to fall victim to the economy. The joint project by Fairview Health Services and the University of Minnesota Physicians called for a five-story structure with 300,000 square feet on what now is a surface parking lot on the university campus.

The building was to have housed clinics, outpatient surgery, outpatient chemotherapy, labs, imaging and a pharmacy. The project partners now say they will not start construction in spring as planned. Instead, they hope to revisit the idea in fall and start building in spring 2010.

In an internal memo, leaders of the partner organizations blamed "a rapidly weakening economy, restricted access to capital, investment losses and the significant increase in the cost of debt."

Fairview, like other health systems, has experienced rapid growth in outpatient activity as new technology makes day surgeries routine for some eye, orthopedic and gynecological procedures.

Deferring the new building will mean devising stopgap measures. Fairview had intended to move some adult medical services into the new building from its Riverside campus, where it is building a new $175 million children's hospital.

Last month, Healtheast said it would delay spending $68 million to expand St. John's Hospital in Maplewood. It also delayed spending more than $100 million to expand Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury.

In addition, four of the Twin Cities' major hospital groups -- Allina, Fairview, North Memorial and Park Nicollet -- have cut a total of more than 1,000 jobs in recent months because of the weak economy.

December 16, 2008

We lose a heavy hitter, a good man, and a wonderful doc

From the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center site:

UPMC Appoints New Transplant Chief

PITTSBURGH, December 15, 2008 — Abhinav Humar, M.D., a nationally recognized expert in abdominal transplantation, has been appointed clincal director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and chief, Division of Transplantation in the Department of Surgery at UPMC. Dr. Humar will oversee all clinical and clinical research activities of one of the world’s most active transplant programs. Dr. Humar is expected to assume the position by March 2009.

“Dr. Humar is known as a gifted surgeon and a man of integrity and his credentials speak for themselves,? said Timothy R. Billiar, M.D., the George V. Foster professor of surgery and chairman, Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “His presence at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute will enable us to continue providing the most advanced care possible to patients with end-stage organ failure. Additionally, his skills as a scholar in academic medicine will help bolster the mission of the Starzl Institute by fostering the continual improvement of the clinical, scientific and social aspects of transplantation to improve the lives of our patients.?

Dr. Humar currently serves as medical director of the Liver and Living Donor Programs at the Transplant Center of the University of Minnesota Medical Center and professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation Surgery at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine.

“This position at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh is an unparalleled opportunity,? said Dr. Humar. “The caliber of professionals, support and legacy that exists at UPMC and Pitt are outstanding. I am extremely honored and tremendously excited to be working with this dedicated team and to be in a position to carry out both the vision and the mission of the Starzl Transplant Institute.?

“With Dr. Humar joining an already outstanding transplant team, the Starzl Institute will continue its distinguished tradition of leading the field in research and clinical advances that improve treatment not only for our own patients but for transplant patients everywhere,? said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

I have been following this situation and have posted previously on it:

A World Class Liver Transplant Surgeon At Minnesota
Let's Not Lose Him

As an old Pittsburgher whose first job was at Pitt - I have mixed feelings about this. Certainly the situation at Pitt must be extremely attractive to Dr. Humar. On the other hand he is exactly the kind of person we badly need here at Minnesota. So (gulp) congratulations and best wishes to Dr. Abhi Humar.

December 12, 2008

To No One's Surprise - Suds for the Swells


"We don't dare hamstring the athletic department when we have insisted that they have a business plan. A vote against this resolution will go against the basic principles established in Duluth. It will violate the public's trust." "I hope we will keep our word." Regent David Metzen

"I know he [Regent Metzen] has the university's athletic department at heart."
"I am not going against my principles." Regent Anthony Baraga

From the Strib:

In a rare split vote this morning, the Board of Regents approved a policy that allows alcohol sales in premium, restricted seating of TCF Bank Stadium and other campus venues.

Longtime Regent David Metzen made a lengthy address, complete with a handout, arguing that to keep the suites alcohol-free would "put our ability to sell premium seats at risk" and hinder the ability of the athletics department to make money.

"We are in a very, very competitive market," Metzen said, listing the professional teams with which the new stadium will compete.

The University of Michigan bans alcohol everywhere*.

Regent Anthony Baraga -- one of two to vote against the new policy -- said the new on-campus football stadium "gives us a chance to have an alcohol-free stadium."

"We could be the poster child," he said.

Baraga was part of a three-regent minority that voted against allowing alcohol sales in Northrop Auditorium back in 1999. "I just don't think the university campus is a place where we should be drinking," he said then.

He was joined today in his opposition by Regent John Frobenius, who said he was concerned about the policy because it "discriminates based on ticket price."

*No Big Ten school sells alcohol to general seating. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern & Ohio State don't have alcohol, even in suites & club seats. A very misleading statement was made by a university representative about this fact in her pitch. She did not admit the absolute alcohol ban throughout the stadiums of five BigTen schools. The new policy was claimed to be typical - which it is not.

I attended this BoRe meeting today and took copious notes. Usually, I can't do more than take the three minutes for my two cents because classes are in session. This time I went yesterday afternoon and a little this morning. Technical difficulties prevented live-blogging but I hope to do this in the future.

Fodder was generated for a number of future posts.

Executive summary: nothing surprising happened but this is not good news.

MoreU Park advances. Visions of sugar plums - in the form of megabucks for mined gravel - were obviously dancing through the heads of an enchanted audience of regents. Having heard this song and dance before, I was a little surprised that it had all been reduced to money. Nothing about the planned community in the middle of nowhere which has been emphasized so much in other venues. When they tell you that it is not about the money, that is a sure sign that it is about the money. An embarrassing proposal will be made to the state legislature for Bell funding and HEAPR to the tune of seventy million dollars in addition to the already approved $140 million increase to be requested. We will look stupid and greedy.

I think that most of the Regents mean well but I am afraid that they are not exactly playing with a full deck.

Congratulations to Regents Frobenius and Baragas for standing up to the rather crude attempt at browbeating by Regent Metzen, who is apparently the athletics department's designated regent. As a former Gopher hockey captain, this is not exactly surprising.

Regent Metzen has also been OurLeader's strongest supporter. He has chosen not to stand for another term. This is probably a good decision, since he apparently does not live in the district that he represents. It will be interesting to see how things go when he steps down.

In addition to his service on the BoRe, Regent Metzen is also a motivational speaker who lists his regent service as one of his qualifications for giving lectures (at $2000 - $5000 a pop) on such topics as:

Leaders are Learners

Change or Die

Building a Learning Organization

How Great Boards Work

It’s All About People

You Can’t Win Without Teamwork

Inspiring and Motivating Your Staff

Barriers to Change

Moving out of your Comfort Zone

Sounds as if Regent Metzen will be moving out of his comfort zone so that we can all learn how great boards work. After all, building a learning organization is all about people and you can't win without teamwork. Inspiring and motivating your staff involves removing barriers to change.

December 10, 2008

Damn the torpedoes,

full speed ahead.

From MPR:

Area physicians say on-campus booze sends wrong message

by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
December 10, 2008

St. Paul, Minn. — A Twin Cities area physicians' group wants the University of Minnesota to delay a decision on whether to sell alcohol at several venues on campus, including the new Gopher football stadium.

The West Metro Medical Society is asking the university's Board of Regents to allow more time for discussion and public comment on the proposal.

It would allow fans in premium seats, such as private suites and club rooms, to buy alcohol at the new TCF Bank football stadium, Mariucci arena and Williams arena.

Jack Davis, CEO of the West Metro Medical Society, said his group is concerned that serving alcohol on campus sends the wrong message.

"This has gotten to be such a huge public health issue that we have asked them to make this decision more deliberative and delay it for six months," Davis said.

The board of regents is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting on Friday. President Bob Bruininks has recommended the board pass the proposal.

So let's see... The U is pushing an all-campus ban on tobacco - that includes outdoors, folks - for health reasons. But alcohol on campus is ok? Lord love a duck. And then there is the question of who gets to drink the alcohol if it is allowed on campus. Deny it to those underage? No, deny it to all peons sitting in the cheap seats, even if they are well past drinking age, they will not get beer.

Because of course we have to have some perks for the high rollers.

Bob, I don't know how you can say the words: Great public university. Sad.

December 8, 2008

Minnesota Doesn't Have the Horsepower

to Keep Medical Technology Leadership Forum
From Going Hoosier...


"A good day ain't got no rain.
A bad day's when I lie in bed
and think of things that might have been."

-Paul Simon, Slip Slidin' Away

A friend called this very interesting story to my attention.

Something about this doesn't make a lot of sense. The organization being discussed was originally located in Minnesota and is moving to Indiana. One of the founders is a former Minnesota Senator and the other is a U of M faculty member.

With all the big talk at the U about about medical devices and world-class biomedical research, this development is hard to understand. As recently as July 9 in the Daily, OurLeader was talking epicenter:"Our goal – and the goal embraced by the legislature and governor – is to make Minnesota the epicenter of discovery in biomedical science..."

From the Indianapolis Star:

December 7, 2008 Med-tech forum's move coup for state

Indiana landed the Medical Technology Leadership Forum last week, besting world-class competition to host the policy organization.

It wasn't really a fair fight.

Harvard and Dartmouth universities couldn't stack up to Indiana and Purdue universities. Minnesota-based medical-device maker Medtronic didn't have the horsepower of Indiana's Cook Group and Zimmer to keep the forum in Minneapolis.

The forum will have an office at the Indiana University Research and Technology Center in Downtown Indianapolis. The board is close to naming an executive director to replace Foote, who will remain on the board.

With a $400,000 annual budget, the forum won't make a big splash on the local landscape, but its presence in the health policy realm will be huge. The group, whose members include medical-device makers, academics and federal regulators, sponsors three forums to hash out important policy questions.

A meeting Monday and Tuesday here will center on the Food and Drug Administration, which has come under fire recently for being slow to approve new drugs.

The meeting will include a session with Sen. Evan Bayh, who chairs the Senate's Medical Technology Caucus. Gail Cassell, an Eli Lilly and Co. vice president and chair of the FDA's Science Advisory Board, will be part of the forum. Jane Henney, a University of Cincinnati professor and former commissioner of the FDA, will be in town, too.

"It seemed like (Indianapolis) was a place that was full of energy to invigorate an organization like this," Foote said.

There are two reasons this is important for the state. First, it centers on medical devices, which is a $17 billion industry, and device companies in Indiana represent $8 billion of that total.

Second, it adds policy formation to medical-device manufacturing and health-information management as critical areas that Indiana can exploit.

"It does not lobby," said David Johnson, president of BioCrossroads, who helped land the med-tech forum. "It will provide thought leadership from the policy-making level."

Mix it with the area's other key players -- drug makers, device makers, insurers, major pharmacies, the universities and hospitals -- and the region becomes an even bigger player.

December 6, 2008

Time to Put The Head Back On and Get Off the High Horse?


Or we have no money, therefore we must think.

To my amazement, OurLeader continues merrily along with things like:

(From MPR)

by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
December 5, 2008

Education could take a big hit
during budget deficit

The University of Minnesota is planning to ask lawmakers for more than $200 million in new money to fund an increase in salaries, prop up scholarships, build a new natural history museum

Has OurLeader lost it?

An intemperate rant about this may be found on the Periodic Table. Some concrete suggestions are made there. OurLeader asked for suggestions at a Senate meeting last Thursday, where he apparently demonstrated that he is quite the comedian. I see a future as Jay Leno's replacement or perhaps a gig at Mystic Lake?

I doubt that he will take the suggestions mentioned above seriously. He has his own agenda, let the peons eat cake and drink Coca-Cola. No beer for them. And until he is dragged kicking and screaming back to reality, this kind of arrogance - or being without a clue - is going to continue. The light rail situation is an excellent recent example of his leadership.


December 5, 2008

Budget Deficit and the U

puzzled bob.jpg

That large?

I had no idea...

From the Daily:

University Vice President of Budget and Finance Richard Pfutzenreuter said he and President Bob Bruininks were already working with various hypothetical economic models in preparation for a cut in funding from the state; the current projection far exceeded anything for which they were planning.

Really? Where have you folks been?

More Daily:

Minnesota is facing what might be its worst budget deficit ever, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Thursday at a Capitol news conference, a sign that the financial crisis has continued to tighten its grip on the state.

The shortfall is projected to be $5.2 billion — or nearly 14 percent of the state’s budget —for the current 2008-2009 biennium and the one to follow in 2010-2011. Minnesota’s constitution requires that the government balance the budget at the end of each two-year period.

Despite the lack of details, budget cuts can often find their way to higher education institutions. The state of Washington, for example, faces a similar budget deficit — $5.1 billion — and the higher education system there was warned to prepare for 20 percent cuts, University of Washington spokesman Norm Arkans said.

OK, Bob, time to earn your high salary. You need to get some of that old-time religion and decide what is really important here at the University of Minnesota. I don't want to hear any more of this "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public universities in the world" stuff out of you for a long, long time.

December 4, 2008

The Cleveland Clinic Sets An Example For The University of Minnesota

From the New York Times:

Cleveland Clinic Discloses Doctors’ Industry Ties

Published: December 2, 2008

The Cleveland Clinic plans to announce this week it has begun publicly reporting the business relationships that any of its 1,800 staff doctors and scientists have with drug and device makers.

The clinic, one of the nation’s most prominent medical research centers, is making a complete disclosure of doctors’ and researchers’ financial ties available on its Web site, www.clevelandclinic.org.

The Cleveland Clinic’s Web postings are the most recent part of a conflict-of-interest effort at the clinic after some of its leading doctors came under fire several years ago when the news media disclosed some of their financial links.

“They are breaking a new path here,? said Dr. David J. Rothman, the president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, a nonprofit group based at Columbia University that studies potential conflicts of interest.

In American medicine, doctors’ links to industry are often hidden from public view. And critics argue that such relationships can taint the integrity of medical research and patient care. In one of the most recent controversies, a highly regarded and influential psychiatrist at Emory University, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, drew criticism in October for failing to disclose at least $1 million in consulting fees from drug makers.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has brought Congressional scrutiny to the issue and introduced legislation that would require drug and device makers to divulge the payments they make to doctors. In a statement, Senator Grassley praised the clinic’s move, citing it as evidence of change. “Patients deserve easy access to information about their doctors’ relationships with drug companies,? he said, “and the Cleveland Clinic is making that possible.?

Under the effort led by Dr. Chisolm, every scientist and doctor employed by the clinic must report any industry relationship to the clinic at least once a year. Members of the committee, which meets monthly, typically interview the doctors involved, often requiring documentation like letters to academic journals alerting editors to the industry relationships.

The clinic has been working for more than a year to set up the public listing on its Web site, where consulting payments of more than $5,000 a year, and all royalty and equity interests, will be disclosed.

“Disclosure is a minimum,? said Dr. Chisolm, who hopes to begin listing the actual dollar amounts involved in a doctor’s consulting arrangements next year. The current disclosure simply lists the companies for whom the consulting takes place. He said the group was planning to improve the clinic’s ability to audit the information it received from doctors, because the clinic must now rely on doctors’ self-reporting to find potential conflicts.

The committee does sometimes ask doctors to choose between their consulting and research roles. Dr. Richard Grimm, a cardiologist, was a consultant for the device maker Medtronic, receiving more than $10,000 a year, the limit above which a doctor or researcher must get special approval to continue related research. Last year, he was asked either to stop overseeing clinic research involving a Medtronic device or to do less consulting.

“I sincerely never felt that one was having any effect on the other,? recalled Dr. Grimm, but he chose to scale back his consulting. “One of the main reasons I’m at the clinic is to have involvement in teaching and research,? he said.

Among the most difficult potential conflicts to manage are those that involve the clinic’s own entrepreneurial activities. In one case, the clinic is undertaking research about a medical treatment after surgery developed by one of its own start-up companies. The committee, working with the clinic’s board, developed a management plan that barred any of the research being conducted by someone directly involved in the company. And it called for the possible review of the research findings by an independent party.

Dr. Cosgrove says the clinic’s efforts, like those of the country’s other medical centers, are still a work in progress.

“This is a moving target,? he said, “and it’s obviously moved a long ways in the last 20 years.?

And some institutions are moving faster than others...

Dave Durenberger (in his newsletter) notes of this development:

This week the Cleveland Clinic announced a complete disclosure of their 1,800 staff doctors and scientists relationships with drug and device makers. Over $5,000 a year plus royalty and equity interests. The information will be available on the clinic’s website. I’ve never met a doctor who would admit to being influenced by special favors, economic or otherwise, from product vendors. That includes Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove who publicly complains “you can’t get a coffee mug from a drug company.? But the rate at which American medicine seeks them (and Cosgrove himself has gone way beyond coffee mugs) and the ends to which so many well-paid professionals go to hang on to them, says otherwise. Senate Finance Committee ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa deserves a huge amount of credit for the pressure he is putting on these professionals to act like professionals so he doesn’t have to act like an outraged legislator.

December 3, 2008


One of our outstanding chemistry department researchers and teachers, fondly known as XYZ, is heading south to what is becoming the University of MInnesota South Branch, aka the University of Texas. We have recently lost Paul Barbara, now in the National Academy, to Texas as well as the outstanding bio-organic chemist Ben Liu. Jim Chelikowsky, a computational materials scientist, has also been snapped up recently.

This demonstrates the difficulty of becoming one of the three top public research universities in the world [sic]. The competition has deep pockets.

XYZ is a UT graduate and no doubt the Longhorns made him an offer he couldn't refuse. In the current mercenary environment, a bedrock of stable funding is hard to turn down. It is a tribute to our chemistry department that they have so many excellent faculty. Unfortunately this makes us the proverbial happy hunting ground. Before we fall all over ourselves pursuing interdisciplinary dollars, let's recognize that we need strong disciplinary research as a foundation.

All the best, XYZ!

From the University of Texas Chemistry Department Website:

Dr. Xiaoyang Zhu joins the department

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is pleased to welcome Dr. Xiaoyang Zhu, who will be joining the faculty this spring. Dr. Zhu received a BS from Fudan University in 1984 and a PhD from The University of Texas in 1989. He is a 2006 recipient of the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Award, and a 1996 recipient of the Cottrell Scholar Award.

Dr. Zhu works on surface/interface problems in three general areas: molecular electronics and organic semiconductors, biosensors and protein microarrays, monolayers and molecular tribology. He probes surfaces and interfaces on the femtosecond time scale and nanometer length scale using a variety of state-of-the-art experimental tools, ranging from ultrafast photoemission spectroscopy to interfacial force microscopy. Please join us in welcoming him to our department.

December 2, 2008

Money Overboard?


I feel your pain...

UD notes the rush to lighten the load by many university presidents in a piece entitled: Watch Them Scurry.

Therein, she cites an article from the Princeton student newspaper. After giving examples of the donations made by numerous presidents lately, the paper notes the Bruininks-like response made by president Shirley Tilghman, who makes about what Bruininks makes - $750 K. UD translates the adminspeak into: "None of your effing business."

A quote I've cited earlier ends the Princeton piece:

“People are getting tuition increases; some faculty are facing layoffs — it just doesn’t look too good for presidents, no matter how capable they are, to be getting so much money,? said Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, according to the Times.

“Americans have had a touching faith in higher education; it’s losing its good image with the public,? he added…

It has been interesting to see OurLeader, kicking and screaming, dragged into compliance when he finally realized that he had no other choice. This is not called leadership. Good leaders recognize the inevitable, plan for it, and follow through. Symbolism is also important - think pancakes, think "I feel your pain."

Bob? Your serve.

December 1, 2008

Time To Be Reasonable About New Buildings?

From the Daily:

The University of Minnesota plans to spend about $1 billion in building new facilities over the next six to 10 years, which is at least as much as the state will face in a budget deficit.

The University is in the midst of a building boom which, when orchestrated during a financial crisis, can be a double-edged sword.

Building facilities can create construction jobs and draw in money for the state economy, but it can also cost the state large amounts of taxpayer money. The state typically picks up two-thirds of the tab for construction of University facilities.

The University already has some of its major projects funded such as TCF Bank Stadium and the biomedical research buildings nearby, but there are also some major building projects that are waiting for funding.

A request of about $26 million for the construction for a new Bell Museum is one of the main items the University will be requesting from the Legislature this session, Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien said.

The request passed the Legislature last session, but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“The question is: is the political leadership viewing public investments in infrastructure as a means to stimulate the economy?? O’Brien said.

But with the large deficit, things are going to get ugly at the legislature this session, said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, the chairman for the Higher Education and Work Force Development Policy and Finance House committee.

“There’s going to be some tough financial decisions to be made this session,? Rukavina said. “I think everything is back on the table, even the bonding proposals that have been passed.?

Rukavina said his major concerns going into the session are getting funding for repairs of Folwell Hall and working with the University so tuition doesn’t spike too high.

In past economic hard times the state has taken the easy way out by pulling money out of the system, which in turn, has caused the University to raise tuition, Rukavina said.

“I don’t know how much more college students can take as far as the debt we’ve imposed on them since 2002,? Rukavina said.

From a national perspective, there have been many universities that have decided to put their building plans on hold during the financial crisis, and higher education is more vulnerable to budget cuts than other state funded operations, Flahaven said.

“When they face a budget crunch, higher education is typically what lawmakers have control over and target first,? he said.

Pappas is a proponent of repairing existing facilities at universities, not necessarily building new ones, when the state’s economy is under duress.

Pappas said she supported the University’s request for the Bell Museum last year, but was not sure how it would hold up at the Legislature this session.

“If they want money for the Bell Museum, I don’t know how that will fair,? Pappas said. “I think it’s more likely that we would give repair or replacement dollars.?